Orange County Health Department monitoring Whooping Cough outbreak

ORANGE COUNTY (January 23, 2018) -- Orange County Health Department (OCHD) officials confirmed Monday that several students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) have been diagnosed with pertussis (Whooping Cough). As of Monday, several cases had been confirmed, with patients ranging in age from 11 to 54.

Pertussis is an infection that affects the airways and is easily spread through coughing or sneezing. Pertussis is most commonly spread when a person is within three feet of a pertussis case. The longer the contact exists, the more likely that pertussis will spread. The severe cough can last for weeks or months, sometimes leading to coughing fits and/or vomiting.

"Anyone can get pertussis, but it can be very dangerous for infants and people with weakened immune systems," said Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart. "Family members with pertussis, especially mothers, can spread the virus to newborns. Unvaccinated persons are especially susceptible. Make sure your family's vaccinations are up to date."

The OCHD and CHCCS sent letters home with all students on Monday with information for parents.

Stewart recommends parents take several steps if their child has a cough.

  • Keep your child home from school or day care and activities, such as sports, parties, church or other group activities.
  • Make an appointment with your child’s doctor as soon as possible and tell the doctor that your child may have been exposed to pertussis.

If your child is diagnosed with pertussis:

  • Tell the school or day care that your child has been diagnosed with pertussis.
  • Your child will need to stay home from school and activities, such as sports or church until your child has been on antibiotics for five days to treat pertussis.
  • Ask your child’s doctor to notify the Orange County Health Department of the diagnosis.

Giving preventive medication to close contacts of a pertussis case is recommended if the contact is at high risk of developing severe pertussis or is a close contact to someone at high risk of developing severe pertussis.

Protection against pertussis from the childhood vaccine, DTaP, decreases over time. Older children and adults, including pregnant women, should get a pertussis booster vaccine called “Tdap” to protect themselves and infants near or around them. If you need the Tdap vaccine, contact your medical provider or call Orange County Health Department for an appointment.

If you have questions or concerns please contact your medical provider or you can call Iulia Vann, Public Health Services Manager at 919-245-2425.

Orange County operates two health clinics -- one at the Whitted Human Services Center in Hillsborough (300 West Tryon Street) and one at the Southern Human Services Center in Chapel Hill (2501 Homestead Road). Either location can be reached by calling (919) 245-2400.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control's page on pertussis.